Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Riparian Rhapsodies

While some spend their days
building castles in the sky,
I build the staircase
that allows me
to reach my dreams.
No obstacle
can bar the dreamer
who persistently
gnaws away at its roots.
Leave it to me,
and it will get done!

My walls are built
to keep predators out,
keeping love and comfort
close to my beloveds.
Summer's stores
laid by with practicality,
Hearth snug and safe,
water freshly flowing;
My family,
lodged so diligently,
that even Winter
cannot confine us
with its icy breath!

Well grounded,
all four feet upon this Earth
cannot lend my dance
any great measure of grace.
with deceptive ease
I slip my bulk
from this land
to watery realm.
Immersing in the Intuitive,
Swimming strong
in the Collective Unconscious,
buoyant emotions eddying around me,
I sort Dream from Reality
with a resounding slap of warning
at the first sign of trouble.

Sacred Center of the land,
I teach that
tasks shared are made lighter.
Our efforts should benefit more
than any single soul or family.
Eagerly met,
Industry is its own reward,
and leisure has its due season.

Even the least 
of honest efforts
is one 
to achieving 
your dreams,
for a single drop of water
completes the sum that will burst
the mightiest dam.
Only death
can truly halt our growth
in this life.

For those new to the game, each poem is inspired by a Teacher found in Nature; a star, stone, animal, plant etc that holds lessons of Wisdom for us. Can you guess who is singing today? Congrats to Jaguarwombyn, Poppy (O.R.M.E) and Sharonlee for naming this Teacher!

"Be the change that you want to see." ~ Gandhi

"If you can dream it, then you can achieve it. You will get all you want in life if you help enough people get what they want." ~ ZigZiglar

"We all dream a lot- some are lucky, some are not. But if you think it, want it, dream it, then it's real. You are what you feel." ~ Tim Rice

Beavers are mammals, second largest (30 - 51" including tail, 40 - 60 #) in the Order Rodentia and belong in the Family Castoridae. The only two living species in this family are Castor Canadensis (North American beaver) and Castor Fiber (Eurasian beaver). This species is consider second only to Humans in their ability to manipulate and alter our landscape! Fossil evidence reveals that there was once a much larger beaver, a third species, that grew to be about the size of a black bear! It is believed that this species died out around the same time as mastadons and mammoths. Perhaps one of many reasons why one of the Native Nations called the beaver the Little People. Several Native American tribes have stories that involve giant beavers, although there is no evidence at this time that humans hunted this species. For our purposes I'll be looking primarily at the species I am most familiar with, the North American beaver.

Beavers are closely related to family Scuridae (squirrels). They can be found across North America except for northern most Canada and desert areas in the southern United States. These mammals are primarily aquatic and nocturnal, although they can certainly be active during daylight, or more likely, dawn and dusk. While somewhat less active in Winter, they do not hibernate. Their thick glossy red-brown or black-brown pelts shed water efficiently and were so highly prized that both Eurasian and American species were once in danger of being hunted into extinction!

Their distinctly large chisel-like incisors and powerful jaws are essential in gnawing down the trees that are used in building their homes, known as lodges. Like other members of Rodentia, their teeth never stop growing, a necessity when you chew down trees regularly and eat primarily bark and cambium (the softer growing tissue under the bark of trees). These incisors are coated with an extra hard orange enamel on the outer face that protects their softer dentin behind. This gives the Beaver a perpetually sharp edge to their tree-felling teeth!

Being primarily aquatic they have many interesting adaptions (physically and behaviorally) to help them in the water. They can close their lips behind their incisors so that they don't take in water when transporting building or eating material to their lodges. They also have the ability to close their nostrils, ears, and a set of transparent eye membranes to help them move with ease through water, eyes open. 

Their hind feet are webbed to better propel them. Their broad flat scaly tails not only act as four-way rudders when they swim, but are also used to warn other beavers of potential threats with a loud slap upon the surface of the water. They also use their tails to help them balance when sitting and standing, to regulate body temperature, and to store energy-rich fat to help them through the lean months of Winter. They do not, as is popularly believed, use their tails to seal their dams with mud, at least not intentionally.

Beavers are protective of their families and territories. Perhaps the most notable method used for marking their territory is their habit of making piles of mud at the edges of their area that they then mark with a musk-like secretion called castoreum. Their senses of hearing and smell are keen and relied on much more than their relative poor eyesight. Their nimble hand-like front paws serve them well, and are essential in keeping their coats well-groomed and properly oiled with the water-proofing castoreum.

Beavers are infamous for their ability to create and use dams, canals and lodges. Their natural skill as engineers was surely a huge inspiration to our own species! Beavers can cause a great deal of damage with all their tree-felling and damming of stream beds, but their usefulness far outweighs the damage done, in my opinion. Sometimes referred to as Nature's Kidneys, their ability to create a rich wetland is not only beneficial to the many species that thrive in such an environment, but also helps to regulate the flow and general health of Earth's water by maintaining the water table at an appropriate level and controlling flooding and erosion. Their dams allow silt to build up and toxins to be properly filtered. 

Once a beaver's dam has been abandoned, the rich environment allows many useful plants and trees to grow in the area eventually creating a lush meadow. Both the created wetlands and the eventual meadows provide for a wide variety of plants, animals, birds, insects and other critters both aquatic and land based.
As one might expect, Beavers select sites to build their dams based primarily on topography and food supply. They will take advantage of things like conveniently placed rocks, jutting shelf edges, man-made walls or narrowed waterways. Dams are built to create calm ponds which act as a moat around their lodge. 

Their lodges are quite interesting affairs, solidly built and sealed with mud which hardens to rock-like consistency. Hardy predators like wolves and wolverines are unable to break through the walls of a beaver lodge even if they should choose to cross the beavers' protective ring of water. Tunnels are hollowed out underwater to access the interior two rooms; one smaller entry room where they can dry off at their leisure, and a second larger room that serves as living quarters for the family.

This is vented by a chimney left in the roof of the two foot thick beaver lodge. This vent allows the lodge to maintain a comfortable temperature as well as providing air to breathe. Beavers who live on waterways where the water is too swift and strong to be dammed, or large bodies like lakes that maintain their own levels, do not build the usual freestanding domed lodge. Instead they build their lodges into the banks. 

Lodges and dams are constructed and maintained with whatever materials are at hand; trees, stones, mud, grasses and other plants. These structures can vary in size and form greatly, achieving sizes as much as 10 feet high and over 165 feet wide! The feel and sound of flowing water seems to stimulate this species into building its structures. Just as they leave a chimney in the lodge, so their dams also are built with a deliberate leak which allows for changes in water level and pressure. This Teacher is indeed a Master Engineer!
They will look for areas abundant with their favorite foods like willow, alder, maple, poplar, beech, birch, aspen, dogwoods, cattails or water lilies, rushes or sedges. Entirely vegetarian, they will eat fresh leaves, berries, twigs, stems, tubers, and bark. Fermentation of a by special intestinal microorganisms allows them to digest 30% of the cellulose they ingest. Beavers will roll water lily leaves up like cigars before they munch them down, and are especially fond of willows and the tuberous roots of aquatic plants like the cattails or lilies. Their fondness for willows means that they store up quite a bit of salicylic acid, which may be why they were so often used in ancient medical practices to treat pain.

Beaver family units typically consist of a mated pair, kits and yearlings. Two years is around when they start moving out on their own to establish their territory. Although, in times of drought or resource shortage, they will often stick around helping out the family with dam and lodge repairs, grooming, and play sessions as well as adding to the food cache that will seem them all through the winter. As many as 10 or so beavers might be found living in a large lodge.

Beavers are monogamous and mate for life, anywhere between 5 to 20 years in the wild depending on conditions, resources and circumstances. Beavers are the only mammal that never stops physically growing; it will do so to its last day. If their mate dies then they will seek out a new mate. A male can fell a good-sized aspen in an hour. His mate waits til the felling is done before moving in to help transport their goods up the canals to home base. There is no special name to differentiate between male and female. Groups are referred to as colonies or lodges.

I tend to think of them at shore's edge keenly observing in any tale where Faeries accomplish some amazing task overnight. Living as they do between water and land, primarily nocturnal but active at dusk or dawn, really reinforces this association for me. This squat, muddy near-sighted rodent is an unassuming enchanter though. Eternally busy with his plans that will bring his imagined goals into fruition. The beaver weaves his spells of earth and water creating a sacred and verdant space in which anyone could thrive! 

While not graceful on land, they give every impression of being capable, strong, well-grounded. In water they add grace, agility, and speed. Water is associated with emotions, dreams, and intuitive abilities. Symbolically this Dream Builder presents the success of coupling practical diligent well-grounded behavior and habits, with verdant emotions, vivid dreams and keen intuition; a potent package indeed!

This quiet Teacher shows by example how to fell trees to construct deceptively simple highly useful structures. How to create a safe and comfortable home, as well as create a lush landscape that provides for many. This particular aspect is why the Beaver was known as the Sacred Center of the land, and I think this Teacher is an excellent one to turn to when we are looking to establish healthy routines and sacred spaces. They also teach us how to prepare for hardships and lean times. Beaver says it is not enough to simply be busy, nor spend all our time daydreaming. Instead we must clearly  envision our goal, plan wisely and then put those plans into action.

Imagine for a moment all that this amazing Creature can do. Now, imagine that ancient 8 foot long, 6-800 pound beaver and all that it could do! Yet, it's size made the making of a lodge or dam unnecessary creating a rather over-confident critter with no focus, no need to make plans or alter the world around them. Beaver says we can achieve anything if we bend body, mind and soul upon the task. Taking time to imagine our best potentials and goals is just as important as putting in the diligent and dedicated work necessary to achieve our grandest dreams. Have you been neglecting your dreams, or giving all your energy to work? 

Need to spend more time with your family, or a clearer understanding of your subconscious thoughts and dreams? Need encouragement or inspiration in attaining those dreams? Perhaps a little boost to renew your determination, or help finding a better balance and flexibility between work and family obligations? Beaver is an excellent guide to call upon. Being mindful that all of our actions and choices will have effect on those around us is a key Beaver lesson. Beaver also reminds us to always be receptive to learning. We should be willing and working to grow into our best potential every day of our life. This Teacher's lessons are as magical as they are practical!

“Start by doing what's necessary, then what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” ~ Saint Francis of Assisi

“All growth depends upon activity. There is no development physically or intellectually without effort, and effort means work.” ~ Calvin Coolidge

“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” ~ Thomas Edison

Keywords: Industry/Action, Planning, Engineering, Practicality, Diligence, Imagination, Exploration, Dreams, Teamwork, Conservation, Resourcefulness, and Family

Potential Balancers: Water, and other elements. Trees like Willow, Alder, Cottonwood, and Beech. Other plants like Cattail, Water Lilies, Blackberry, Grasses, and Marshmallow. Birds like Wren, Red-winged Blackbird, Goldfinch, Heron, Eagle and Owl. Other nocturnally active creatures like Bat, Fox, or Opossum. Mammals like Wolf, Bear, Moose, Rabbit, Muskrat, Otter, or Bobcat.

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